Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

February 15, 2014

Fact Check: Health care law and firefighters

By Steve Contorno

PolitiFact.com

New guidelines from the U.S. Treasury Department are giving some employers more time to get insurance for their workers before facing a penalty. But the guidelines also settle an issue that we’ve fact-checked before on how regulations will affect volunteer firefighters.

Back in December, PolitiFact readers flagged a Facebook post by the conservative group Generation Opportunity that said “Obamacare could force thousands of volunteer fire stations to cut service or close entirely.”

It turned out there was some merit to those concerns, though they were exaggerated by Generation Opportunity, the same group that ran anti-Obamacare ads depicting Uncle Sam giving a gynecological exam. We ended up giving the claim a Half True.

On Feb. 10, 2014, the Treasury Department released final guidelines for the employer mandate that requires large businesses to provide workers insurance. The new rules specifically exempt volunteer fire and rescue units from that provision, a clarification that previously wasn’t included.

Here is what was at issue:

Under the Affordable Care Act, employers with the equivalent of 50 or more full-time workers must provide health insurance. If not, they face a penalty of $2,000 for every worker after 30 (though that mandate was delayed until January 2015 and on Feb. 10, President Barack Obama again pushed it back another year for employers with 50-99 full-time employees).

Whether the employer mandate applied to volunteer fire and rescue units was unclear in December. While many of the 25,000 volunteer fire stations are small and serve rural units, some larger counties and municipalities were concerned their volunteer stations would be counted with other government employees. Providing insurance to volunteer firefighters would be very costly to their departments, they said.

The original draft regulations did not mention volunteer rescue workers.

Adding to the confusion was a previous ruling from the Treasury Department that said volunteer firefighters were considered full-time employees for tax purposes, meaning their benefits could be taxed.

Text Only

Opinion Poll
AP Video
Raw: More Than 100,000 Gather for Easter Sunday Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest